Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Moment" or "Being Young and on Fire"

Over the weekend, Chelsea and I headed to NerdCon: Stories. NerdCon was (and will continue to be) a convention for Storytellers. It was organized by Hank and John Green, the Vlogbrothers who are famous for... vlogging (also about a million other things including writing best-selling YA novels and running massive annual charity events and writing Harry Potter-themed punk rock songs) and Patrick Rothfuss who wrote "The Name of the Wind" which is one of the biggest and biggest-selling fantasy novels ever. I went to NerdCon because the guest list was loaded with people whose work I admire from best-selling authors to vloggers to comedic musicians to podcasters. I thought I might have fun (I did) and I thought I might learn some things to make my own work (writing, podcasting, performing, humaning) better (I did.)

So the big closing event for NerdCon was a performance of "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" by some of New York's  Neo-Futurists (they started in Chicago and there's a group San Francisco too), all of whom have also been involved in various ways with the podcast "Welcome to Night Vale." If you've never seen TMLMtBGB, it's a 60 minute performance in which the actors attempt to perform 30 small plays. The energy of the show is frenetic, the pieces are often raw, and emotional, or absurdist, and funny or... about a hundred different other things depending on when you see it. It's a great show, and if you get the chance, you should check it out.

This is a show that's normally performed in small to medium theaters to relatively intimate audiences. At NerdCon, I'd say there were probably around 1500-2000 people in the crowd. And that crowd loved the show. Like, full on, standing-ovation loved the show. My guess from looking around is that a huge chunk of the audience were teens and twenty-somethings involved in the arts, and that for a lot of them, this was "the moment."

Here's how the moment works. You're a youngish person and you have a vague notion that you want to do something artsy with your life. Maybe you'll get an English degree and become a teacher who does poetry jams on the weekend. Maybe you'll get a communications degree and become a copywriter who also does small community productions of Shakespeare. You know you want some art in your life but you don't know exactly what.

The moment is when you see something that crystallizes in your mind exactly what it is you want to do with your life. You see something that inspires you so much, that seems so amazing, that you think you're seeing a real life magic trick. Days after you see it, you can't stop thinking about it, and eventually, you become SO obsessed with that magic trick that you just HAVE to learn how to do it yourself. You drop all of your other possibly practical plans and you set yourself along the path to become a magician.

What I'm saying is, I think a lot of those kids are going to move to New York or Chicago to try to learn to do what the Neo-Futurists did in Minneapolis last Saturday night.

It was sort of neat to be a now 33 year old in that auditorium watching these teens and twenty somethings having their moment and remembering my own (seeing Carl and the Passions do an incredible Harold at the old ImprovOlympic back in 2003) and remembering what that felt like. It's exhilarating. It feels like your mind is on fire in the best way possible. If I could bottle that feeling and sell it, I'd be a billionaire.

It's also weird to sort of juxtapose that feeling with how I feel now watching a show like that. Because I did have my "moment" and I did walk down that path to become a performer. When I see a really, really good show now, I enjoy it in a different way. I get how the magic trick works now, so my feeling is less one of wonder and more one of enjoying good craftsmanship. Oh, look how they did that. That's smart. I wouldn't have thought to do that. That's good. I would do this slightly differently. I know a guy who does that exact thing. I've never seen someone do x so well!, etc. etc.Young artists are inspired by great work. Older artists deconstruct it in their heads. They are two different, but equally good ways to enjoy a thing.

There are times when I miss being that young, and having that feeling. I sort of have to remind myself that in addition to those feelings of clarity and purpose I was also depressed and anxious all of the time. I have to remember that my life now is so, so much better than it was then. It's more stable. I'm more capable. I'm happier.

But every once in awhile, when I can see someone having that moment? God, I miss it like crazy.


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